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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly Truth About Amazon's Vella
There is a lot to unpack with the latest announcement from behemoth Amazon and their latest idea: VELLA. But now that they have released the very confusing calculation for determining the royalty shares to those who choose to participate, I feel I am ready to tell you what I think.
Let me start from where I naively began when I first heard the news about Vella. On the surface, this is a great idea. After all, the concept of serial fiction is booming. I intend on proving that when I release a blog post in a few days outlining why that is and how you can start one if you want. So, I wasn't surprised when Amazon came up with Vella, which is clearly a way for them to tap into this market.
Vella, for those who may not know what it is or may not have read about it or seen a YouTube video about it from other writers (such as myself) giving their opinions on the subject, is a fairly new idea created by Amazon whereby authors can release their novels chapter-by-chapter and earn royalties from readers who will spend "tokens" to read chapters. Again, on the surface, this sounds like an amazing opportunity and here's why:
Amazon being the worlds largest seller of books and largest area of revenue for a majority of indie authors would be great for smaller self-published authors who are looking to break into the industry and grow their fanbase.
The heavy lifting that many self-published authors now do of putting together a "sneak peek" of chapters to give away for free, finding these readers to give this to, and then crossing our fingers that they actually read it and then follow-up by either signing-up to our newsletter or buying that book (and others) in its entirety later on, is very difficult to do, not to mention time-consuming. Amazon would be able to do all that for us and all we'd have to do is upload the chapters.
Serial fiction, while booming, is in itself a difficult market to break into if you didn't start decades ago and already have a fanbase. There are places where you can post your serial in the hopes that it will be read and "boosted" such as Top Web Fiction. But that can be a roll of the dice. Amazon, with their reputation (both good and bad) might be an easier nut to crack with their algorithms and keyword searches.
But then I decided to sit with this Vella news for a while and look at the little bit of information provided to us when it was first announced and I started to wonder if Amazon wasn't up to something? Especially, as they keep saying the way this system will work is that readers will spend "tokens" to read chapters and that some chapters will be free-to-read first so the reader can make up their mind before deciding to spend tokens on your work. In light of this information, I have questions:
Why "tokens?" Why not just let the writer determine the price per episode?
Define "some" chapters for me? The first chapter? The first two chapters? And does that mean those "free" chapters potential readers will be allowed to read won't earn the writer any royalties?
Looking at their content guidelines, the way I understand it, if you choose to release chapters on Vella that will have a conclusion, you cannot then put that altogether into one book for sale (not even on Amazon KDP?) which seems silly to me so I'm sure I must be reading that wrong. Also, you can't have these chapters up for free anywhere else (ie your website, Wattpad, RoyalRoad, etc.) and you can't take something you've already published (whether it's for sale now or is no longer for sale) and rerelease it in chunks. But you can if you are choosing to use Vella for, let's say, book two or three of a book that is currently for sale somewhere. And not only that, but you can take up to 5k words of that previous book and include it in your new Vella series to give the reader a sort of "recap" of the previous book. Hmm...odd that you can do that but you can't simple release the previous book in chapters?
HERE IS THE EXACT CONTENT GUIDELINES LANGUAGE FROM THE SOURCE
Kindle Vella - Content Guidelines
Kindle Vella is a serial reading experience. To protect readers from purchasing Kindle Vella content they have already read in a different format, you cannot:
Incorporate your Kindle Vella content into other long-form content (e.g., a book) in any language. If you wish to incorporate an episode or story into other content, you must unpublish all episodes of that story from Kindle Vella.
Publish in Kindle Vella content that is in the public domain or freely available on the web.
Break down your previously published book or long-form content into Episodes and republish in Kindle Vella, even if that book or long-form content is no longer available or is written in another language. If your Episode or Story is derived from another work you have authored (e.g., it continues the story from a book), you may include up to 5,000 words of content from the other work in the first Episode to bridge the story, provided you control the rights to do so.
Now here's the latest news from Amazon on their pricing guide, and here's where they not only lost me on this whole concept, but where I feel they really need to reevaluate their plan because this makes no sense to me. Unless, this Vella idea isn't intended for self-published authors? Unless, they have some ace up their sleeve and have shopped this to big name authors like Dean Koontz, or Brandon Sanderson, or James Patterson who have agreed to write a novel and publish it chapter-by-chapter? Why do I suppose this? Well, let's look into the royalty split and you'll quickly see why:
Let's start with TOKENS. The idea is that a reader will buy a bundle of tokens and then use that bundle to read chapter(s) from either known authors or newly-discovered authors. Below is their image showing just how much bundles of tokens will cost. I'm sure if I did a deep-dive into the cost I would find fault here too, but I'm looking out for this writer in this instance more than the reader and how they choose to spend their hard-earned money, at this time.
Taking those figures I now want to direct you to their "calculation" for determining this huge 50% royalty split they keep touting to potential Vella contributors. I'll admit, I see 50% split and I'm thinking, wow, okay, that's not too bad. But then I'm thinking 50% of what? And just when I thought I would get a simple answer or one amount divided by 2, instead, we are met with this:
(Number of Tokens to unlock episode) * (Tokens bundle price/# Tokens in bundle - taxes and fees) * (50% rev share) = Earnings per episode
Simple, right? Exactly! So, instead of breaking down the logic of this equation (there isn't one) let's instead take their calculation and see theoretically how many readers we'd need to even feel a DENT worth of royalty that would make someone want to enter into this deal.
Now, by their own numbers, the cap (meaning the most) words they will allow in an episode/chapter is 5k. So I'm going to go with 5k and show you just how much money you will receive if ONE person reads your episode that is 5k words long:
50 * ($9.99/1100 - 0) * 50% = $0.227 or $0.23
Oh, and before I go any further, I want to caveat this by saying the "taxes and fees" here are currently being shown as $0 because Amazon claims to not yet know what that will be. So, in reality, that $0.23 will decrease when taxes are included...yeah...
Now, one person reads your story and you just "earned" $0.23 for that read. Excited? Didn't think you would be. Now, let's say you wanted to earn $100 from your episode? You'd need, at least 434 people to read that episode. 434?! Okay, okay, let's look at it another way. You write a bunch of episodes/chapters that come out to a full length novel that under normal circumstances if Vella didn't exist you'd package and put up on Amazon KDP for sale. Let's be liberal here and say that works out to about 30 chapters and each chapter is that cap of 5k words. That's $6.90 if the reader sticks with you for all 30 chapters. Not bad, right? You might think so, until you realize that's 150k words! Are we really expected to write 150k length novels? Who's doing that?
Let's take it from the low-end. Cause according to Amazon each episode must be between 600 - 5k words:
6 * ($1.99/200 - 0) * 50% = $0.029 or $.03
Well, sign me up right now Amazon. And thanks for the three pennies for my 600 word episode??
If you don't believe me that this is how they are calculating it, please, read their examples HERE. Trust me, I've checked and triple checked. Cause that "split" of 50% they are talking about is BS. Especially when you factor that Amazon is clearly taking a much larger slice of the pie here. The reader buys a $9.99 bundle, Amazon automatically takes their $5 and the remaining $5 gets divided among the episodes the reader chooses to read (minus taxes of course).
One thing I know for sure, this Vella idea isn't targeting those serial writers who are doing well for themselves because they are already earning 4 and 6 figure incomes every month and if they were to go the Vella route? I crunched the numbers and they would need hundreds of thousands of readers per episode they released to earn what they are already earning from just 2 or 3 thousands readers. The gap is staggering.
While the concept of releasing your story episodes/chapters at a time is a brilliant one, I fear Amazon is going about it the wrong way...again...If you are looking to start a serial I would NOT recommend using Vella no matter how pretty their images or fancy their wording. When it comes down to the numbers, they just don't lie. You'll find yourself writing hundreds of thousands of words just to make a couple bucks?! Don't do it! Instead, do some research and make some connections with other writers who are going the serial fiction writing route and you'll be surprised the friends you'll make along the way and the lessons you'll learn will be much more valuable than the time you'll waste trying to reach hundreds of thousands of readers on Vella.
Especially, as this entire thing hinges on the fact that there will even be hundreds of thousands of Vella readers just itching to receive new episodes every week!